The human eye is a remarkable organ that allows us to see the world, but eyes are also vulnerable to damage from various sources. One such source of damage everyone should be careful of is UV light. But did you know that people with blue eyes can be more susceptible to UV damage?
According to studies, people with lighter-coloured eyes, such as blue eyes, are more sensitive to light, but everyone should take precautions to protect their eyes. These precautions include wearing sunglasses outside and visiting your optometrist for a regular comprehensive eye exam.
What Is UV Light?
Ultraviolet (UV) light is a type of electromagnetic radiation not visible to the human eye, but it can significantly impact our health. The sun is the most common source of UV light, but it can also come from artificial sources such as tanning beds, lightbulbs, and even welding equipment.
There are three different types of UV light, depending on its wavelength: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA has the longest wavelength, followed by UVB, and UVC has the shortest wavelength. The ozone layer blocks UVC light before reaching the earth’s surface, so you typically don’t need to worry about them unless you regularly take trips into the upper atmosphere.
Can Light Damage Your Eyes?
Most of the UV light that reaches your skin is UVA, though some UVB rays can sneak through. While sun exposure can be a great way to get your daily dose of vitamin D, overexposure can cause damage to your eyes. This damage could increase your risk of conditions such as cataracts, eye cancer, and macular degeneration later in life.
In the short term, overexposure to direct sunlight can damage your eyes in the same way it can damage your skin—by leaving a sunburn. A condition known as photokeratitis is a painful irritation that occurs when the front of your eye has been overexposed to UV light, resulting in symptoms such as:
- Gritty feeling
- Blurry vision
- Watery eyes
- Eyelid swelling
- Halos around lights
If you’ve recently spent a lot of time outdoors and are worried you may have sunburned your eyes, an optometrist can examine your eyes and offer treatments such as antibiotic eye drops or pain medication.
Eye Colour & Light Sensitivity
Lighter eye colours like blue, green, or light hazel have less melanin than brown eyes. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin, hair, and eyes colour. It also helps protect against harmful UV rays. Simply put, the less melanin you have, the less light your iris can absorb.
Instead, the light reflects off blue irises into the eye, leaving our retina and other internal structures vulnerable to damage from the sun. This reflection is why people with blue eyes are more likely to experience discomfort or sensitivity when exposed to bright lights and be at a higher risk for some forms of eye cancer.
The Importance of Eye Protection
Whether your eyes are light blue or dark brown, protecting them from UV light is an essential part of vision care. This protection goes beyond simply wearing sunglasses on sunny days. UV light can penetrate through cloud cover and reflect off surfaces such as water, sand, and concrete.
Even in winter, despite its cold days and nights, UV exposure can be just as strong, reflecting off snow and ice and intensifying the light entering your eyes.
Don’t leave your eyes unprotected. Follow these steps to reduce your exposure to UV light:
- Wear sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays
- Wear a wide-brim hat
- Stay in the shade between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun is the strongest
If you notice eye pain or signs of sun overexposure in your eyes, get out of the sun and try reducing the symptoms by placing a cool, damp cloth over your eyes. If the irritation doesn’t fade in a few days, or you notice your vision is dim or blurry, see your optometrist immediately.
A Stylish Way to Protect Your Eyes
A sunny day is an excellent time to go out to the park, but for the millions of Canadians with blue eyes, the sun might feel just a bit brighter than for others. The lack of melanin in their irises might put people with blue eyes at a higher risk of UV damage, but everyone can benefit from eye protection.
Avenue Optometry & Vision Therapy offers a wide selection of stylish prescription and non-prescription sunglasses that may protect your eyes from sun damage. So get the most out of your time outdoors and visit our showroom in North York.